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After blaze, mudslide threats in California

IDYLLWILD, Calif. -- A Southern California wildfire that destroyed seven homes and threatened the mountain town of Idyllwild was sluggish after a thunderstorm drenched the timberland, and more storms were expected.

The 43-square-mile fire above Palm Springs was 68 percent contained. Crews were concentrating yesterday on surrounding it on ridges thousands of feet up in the San Jacinto Mountains, U.S. Forest Service spokesman Lee Beyer said.

The rain was beneficial for dousing flames, but powerful downpours raise the potential for flooding and mudslides in burned areas, prompting authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation warning for 20 homes several miles southeast of Idyllwild.

"If it's raining hard now, it's going to be bringing the mud down in a very short time," Beyer said.

Thousands of evacuees were allowed back home Sunday as a thunderstorm dumped up to 2 inches of rain on portions of the week-old fire. About 1,900 firefighters were assigned, down from some 3,300 at the fire's height, Beyer said.

More storms are expected in the next couple of days -- and that could prove a mixed blessing, he said.

"Light rains are good, heavy rains create mud flows," Beyer said. "Thunderstorms obviously have lightning with them. That's always a safety concern when you have people up on those exposed ridges."

Some 6,000 people fled the idyllic little towns that dot the San Jacinto Mountains between Palm Springs and Hemet after the fire broke out July 15 and quickly raged across the heavily wooded area. Twenty-three structures, including the seven homes, were destroyed.

Authorities have said the fire was human-caused but wouldn't say whether it was accidental or intentional. -- AP

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